Working Life is a monthly column in which Texans talk about their jobs.

Derek Spence, who is fifty, lives in Fredericksburg with his wife and four children. Besides performing, he makes chainsaw sculptures and owns a ghost-tour business.

I played my first gig at fifteen or sixteen, then I went to South Plains College to pursue a music degree. From there I got a job at Fiesta Texas, in San Antonio, before Six Flags bought the park. I played guitar there for a couple years and then moved to Nashville. I was there for five years, and then I moved back to Texas. I was kind of burned out on the music business at that point. This would have been 2000.

I started working at the Rockbox Theater, in Fredericksburg, in 2010. If you recall, 2014 is when George was playing his farewell tour. The theater’s general manager came to me and said, “You kind of look like George Strait, and you sound like him. We’ll take some pictures and promote a George Strait tribute show.” That’s where it started. Then we took it on the road.

I do between forty and sixty shows per year. Our regular band is called Southern County Line. They’re out of Houston—that’s why I do a lot of work there. I do play with other bands, though. Up in Colorado and California, I’ve got a couple of bands that know the show.  

Spence’s Tribute to George Strait’s belt buckle.Photograph by Chad Wadsworth

We focus on the eighties and nineties. That’s what I grew up on. Our goal is to make the audience feel like they are at a George Strait concert in about 1988 or ’89. The show is about an hour and a half. That’s 28 songs if you really haul ass. 

We do our best to honor the legacy of George Strait. We don’t get drunk on stage. We don’t act like a bunch of idiots. We try to keep it real.

George Strait is very subtle. Strait doesn’t have to do a thing—he just stands there and sings. It’s very understated, the way he holds his body. All he has to do is move his shoulders a certain way. But man, for some reason women love that. They eat it up. 

I get more comments on the way I move than anything else. It’s like, “Man, you’ve got the moves down.” And I’m like, “Well, I didn’t really move, but thank you.” It speaks to how much charisma George Strait has. It’s a swaggering, Texas charisma. That’s the secret. I call it the “Texas swag.” If you’re not from Texas, I don’t know that you could do it and make it look natural. 

Spence prepares backstage.Photograph by Chad Wadsworth

George Strait hasn’t seen the show, and we’ve never met, but I know he’s gotten wind of it. I’d love to meet him sometime, but I think I understand the way he is, and I’m the same way. He doesn’t really want to talk about music when he’s not on stage. If I ever met him, I’d like to be fishing or playing golf or deer hunting or something and just talk about that.

I’ve always wanted to grow my hair and beard long and look like Willie Nelson. I’m too young right now, but I’m hoping that’ll be my retirement: just do the Willie Nelson thing.  

This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Derek Spence, George Strait Impersonator.” Subscribe today.